Saturday, 29 November 2008
I recently downgraded from a very large car to a small second-hand car and I have to say I am really enjoying the benefits of a smaller car - cheaper in petrol and easier to find car parking spaces.
Having said that, I still struggle with the concept of using my car so much. The city where I live is fairly young... and obviously designed with cars in mind. As a result, my city has been struggling with public transport ever since. As an example, I can drive from home to my work in 15 mins, one way. If I was to catch public transport, home to work would take me 2 buses and a total of 1 hour and 20 mins one way. This is a huge disincentive for me to catch public transport.
So for now, a smaller car is the best I can do. Recently, I have started to catch buses on weekend outings with the children. Without the pressure of having to get to somewhere, its actually quite lovely to catch buses and not have to worry about parking. I have also realised another benefit for catching a bus. On a bus, my children are exposed to a wider range of people than they normally do. Prior to our weekend bus trips, my children would be driven from place to place where they play with children who are pretty much from the same background/circumstance as them.
A bus is an entirely different matter. On the bus, my children are sitting right next to 70+ year olds, next to people who are mentally or physically disabled, next to people who are obviously from a very very different background to them. They learn to stand up to people who *need* to sit down. They learn that the person who can not see or walk can still get around by themselves. They learn that the young man with Downs Syndrome catches a bus to go to his job in the city every Saturday morning . They learn that the world consists of very different peoples.
I think its a good thing to normalise such things at a very early age. As my local government grapples with public transport infrastructure for a city built for cars, I have decided to continue catching buses when we can - the lessons we are learning have been well worth the "inconvenience".
Since I'm talking about cars on this post, I thought I might share this funny episode from "Top Gear" - smallest production car ever built:
Thursday, 27 November 2008
Down to Earth
A few years ago, when I started thinking about the true cost of food, I started to buy as much as I could in, and from, my own local area. It's very productive land here. We have local milk and cheese producers, lots of organic vegetable growers, honey men, organic beef and lamb growers and plenty of tropical and subtropical fruit. Some of my friends think it's strange that even though I live a frugal life, we spend more than we need to for milk and cheese. Often the local fruit and vegetables are cheaper than the non-local supermarket produce, but I don't mind paying more for local foods. It helps build my community.
When you think about it, a $2 lettuce doesn't really cost $2. It costs a lot more than that. If you calculate in the environmental cost of the transport that brings food hundreds or thousands of kilometres or miles, add to that the damage done by pesticides, herbicides and artificial fertilisers and top that off with eroded soils, the excess water used to grow that lettuce and the nutrient runoff into waterways, and you start to get an understanding of the true cost of that lettuce, and food in general. It's not just the item, it's the system of production and transport that needs to be calculated in.
When you go shopping, take a basket or cloth tote bags with you so you're not relying on plastic bags to bring your food home. Make some small net bags for bagging up smaller items like tomatoes, potatoes, apples and carrots so, again, you don't have to rely on plastic. Don't buy things that have a lot of packaging, and make sure the packaging you do buy, is suitable for recycling.
These are the net bags I use. Just cut out some large and small bags of the size you think you'll use. My large bags are 30cm x 15 cm and the small bags about half that size. Double stitch the seams and openings so they don't rip apart when you're using them repeatedly. You can put a drawstring through - I used crossgrain ribbon here but you can use anything - string, cord or rubber bands. Often they don't need closing. I place all my bags in my cane basket and they usually don't spill out. Using net allows the storekeeper to see what's in the bag without opening it - they like that, but you can use any strong and lightweight fabric.
A good way to have organic food and cut out packaging is to grow as much of your own fresh food as possible. If you have the room, you could also keep your own chickens for eggs. Not only is this a lovely and simple thing to do, but you'll be rewarded with the best and healthiest eggs possible. If you can't grow some of your own food, then buy local, and ask your supplier where the produce comes from. Let them know you want to buy local food. Buy as little as possible from the supermarket, you'll get cheaper and fresher fruit, vegetables, eggs and meat from the green grocer and butcher. Often buying from the smaller local stores is cheaper, but if does cost a bit more, it's the true cost.
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
So I'd like to introduce Heather's blog to you. She writes about the same things we do. She is mindful, frugal, eating local and visits her farmer's market on her bicycle. Take some time to visit her and say hello when you're there. I've also added Heather to our bloglist. Thanks Heather!
Beauty That Moves
Greetings! We have unexpectedly been a little quiet here at the co-op... maybe we all needed a minute to pause. A good thing to do as we take stock and prepare for the holidays ahead.
Recently when I was reading over at Paul's blog, he wrote something that got me thinking. So often around the holidays the question frequently asked is "what would you like to get?" But Paul suggests we ask ourselves, and each other, "what would you like to give?" Isn't that great!? What a great message for our children.
I gave it some thought, and this year I would like to give this gift... a little extra money in my friend's and loved one's pockets, greater health for their families, and respect for our planet. This year I will be giving the gift of do-it-yourself homemade laundry soap.
In our home, we made the decision long ago to switch from the toxic, chemical filled laundry soap from the grocery store to the earth friendly natural variety found at our local food co-op. It wasn't long before I realized that every time I turned around I was spending $10 or more on laundry soap, it's so expensive! We were fortunate to at least purchase it from the bulk bin so we didn't face the excessive packing issue, but I knew it would be better for our budget if I began to make my own. I use Rhonda's recipe with one change, I double the amount of borax and washing soda. I realize it's probably totally unnecessary, but it just makes me feel like it's a little more heavy duty.
This detergent works so well, I have absolutely no complaints and I want to share it with the world! Instead, I will be realistic and share it with those that I personally connect with over the holidays. At first I thought I would make the detergent and give it away all bottled up. But how great for people to make it for themselves? I've put all the ingredients in these little kits, including Rhonda's instructions (I was lucky enough to have several bottles of essential oil on hand and those great cellophane bags). These kits will make just about 2 gallons of detergent, and I hope they will also make a few homemakers happy, satisfied, and just a little bit more capable. I also hope they quickly realize the money that is saved, the waste that is reduced, and the healthy benefits for their family and planet.
So this is what I want to give. Not just the homemade soap (which would still be such a lovely gift!), but the skill that goes along with knowing how to do a simple, practical sort of thing for one's self.
What about all of you, are you thinking of the holidays? What would you like to give?
Thursday, 20 November 2008
You see A~, that's my wife for those of you who may not read my personal blog regularly, has good taste and decorates very well. She often gets compliments from friends and neighbors or is asked to help someone else with a room or two at their own house. The thing is, the way she decorates really doesn't work for helping others, at least not directly. She'll regularly see something at a store, or in a magazine that she really likes the look of but refuses to run out and just buy the stuff she sees. (Bless her!!) Instead, she keeps that idea in mind, or talks to me about it, and we often find a way to make it happen either for much less, or sometimes even for free. Last nights project was one of the latter occasions. This is it hanging above out love seat in the family room.
We just call it the stick picture for now, but we're both really happy with it. It's something that she thinks she saw in a magazine, but honestly can't remember. A couple of weekends ago we were down in Salt Lake City and she saw some bundles of sticks for sale for $15.00 and wanted to pick them up so that we could make this for ourselves. I knew of a place near our house where the city had trimmed some tall brush and left it sit all summer on the side of the road, so suggested that instead. When I saw the city cut and stack the sticks, I knew I'd be able to do something with them, I just wasn't sure what. That's really one of the first habits to build for yourself if you are really serious about being frugal, to see things not necessarily as they are but as they could be.
After heading out and collecting a good selection of the branches, we figured out how we'd build the frame and rounded up the tools. A plain wood saw, some pruning shears and some natural fiber twine were the basics, but I also used a small air stapler (not pictured) to attach the branches to each other. Tools are investments around our house and have paid for themselves many times over.
The project was a simple thing. Staple the pieces together, bind the corners with the twine, prune off the ends of the twigs to fit the frame and hang on wall. A~'s happy, I'm happy and our pocketbook is all the better for it!
As I thought about this post, I realized how much of our home has been furnished or decorated with this kind of frugal, re-use mentality; our family room for example. I thought I'd run down a few things. The "stick picture" is of course the latest addition, but a lot of this room came to us via non-commercial means. The pictures on the wall are ones that we took up in the mountains and placed in thrift store frames that we spray painted, the table on the right was a garage sale find and the coffee table, even though it matches perfectly with the shelves and hutch, was picked up at the local landfill. Yep, the DUMP. Ours has a drop off area for useful items, and I picked it up there while dropping off some other stuff.
Here's a couple of pictures of our front room (below). It's got a lot of interesting frugal options in it as well.
The small table was a garage sale find that has been repainted a couple of times and used for different purposes over the years, The lamp was new once, but has been re-used and re-worked into so many "decorating schemes" that it's taken on a life of it's own. That's another great way to make the most of things. Just because they don't seem like the right piece for a particular room, doesn't mean they can't be made to work in another. Finally, the pillow and blanket are things that I'm really proud of her for. She wanted a matching throw for this room, but wanted it cheap and just the way she pictured in her mind, so she knitted it herself. The pillow is a knock off that she made of an IKEA pillow she saw and loved, but that was in color. She looked the picture of it up online, modified it a little to suit her needs and created a pattern, and then cross-stitched it herself.
This table is something that we picked up for $10.00 at a thrift store about 5 years ago. It was actually a full size kitchen table that we had in another room serving as a computer desk for a couple of years. Last year, it was taken apart, remodeled and turned into the runner table (is that what their called?) that you see here. Even the custom sized painting on the wall was a frugal creation. I built the frame stretched some canvas and painted it for A~ last winter.
My point here isn't to try and show off our decorations, but rather to showcase the idea that good design and decorating don't have to stretch a budget and certainly don't need to cost a fortune. If you keep your eyes out for solid items, reusable items or good designs, with a little creativity and some paint, a lot can be done. Some things will work out well, some things won't. Those that don't can be re-purposed again and tried another way. Look at the things that are being wasted all around us, and make it a game to try to figure out at least one other thing that it could be used for. Pretty soon, you won't be able to not do it.